This rare and important royal memorial bronze head, uhunmwun-elao, from the Benin court of the Edo peoples of southern Nigeria the is one of the most iconic works in the cannons of African art and an emblem of the sophistication in bronze casting perfected in Benin as early as the XV century. Its elegant proportions and sensitive naturalism are the result of a developing stylistic approach that saw these cephalic forms become more elaborate over time as bronze casting guilds, confined to formulae of forms, sought to express themselves through the control of dimension and the minutiae of detailing.
The head exhibits all the attributes of the greatest commemorative heads of the Oba, the powerful monarchs of the Kingdom of Edo (now referred to as Benin), and is, in effect, an idealized portrait of a deceased ancestral figure, in this rare typology shown with a long-necked calabash sitting on the crown of the head. The iguneromwon bronze-casting guild, which produced the Oba commemorative heads, worked within the royal compound and exclusively for the Oba.
Manufacturer: Edo peoples, court of Benin, Nigeria
C.A. Burland, Man and Art, London, 1959, p. 43 (u.r)
Philip J.C. Dark, An Illustrated Catalogue of Benin Art, Boston, 1982, Pl. 28-30
Glendining & Co, London, 19 December 1951, Lot 85
William Ohly, London (acquired at the auction above)
Ernest Ohly, London (by descent from the above)
Private Collection (by descent from the above)